October 16, 2023
SINGAPORE – Singapore would like to partner with the US to develop a new model of globalisation, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said in remarks before one of Washington’s most influential think-tanks on Friday.
“Increasingly, we do hear concerns about shortcomings in the global order, that it does not adequately address concerns around national security, supply chain resilience, et cetera,” Mr Wong said as he rounded up his first working visit to the United States as deputy prime minister.
“We would like very much to work with America on what a new model of globalisation might be, how we can update the rules of the new global order, so that it is fit for our times.”
The rules-based order refers to institutions such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation that were established in the aftermath of World War II to keep the peace and create prosperity through a free flow of trade and ideas.
However, the system does not reflect the new geopolitical dynamics engendered by the rise of China and its attempts to assert its influence on the world stage.
Mr Wong observed that American leadership, which shaped the rules-based order that bestows benefits on all countries, continues to remain essential.
“Singapore appreciates and values America’s important and constructive presence in the Asia-Pacific,” he said, noting that the US had been a pillar in the region for nearly 80 years.
“We would all like you to continue to stay actively and consistently engaged in this part of the world. Not just for one, two years, not just even for the next administration, but for the next 80 years and beyond,” he added.
In the hour-long discussion at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a prominent think-tank that invites key South-east Asian leaders to talk about pressing issues before Washington-based policymakers and analysts, Mr Wong fielded wide-ranging questions.
How Singapore negotiates the intensifying rivalry between the US and China was a recurring issue raised. Mr Wong said Singapore picks its national interest.
“From Singapore’s point of view, when we look at this relationship between the US and China, our perspective is that this is not about balancing between America and China.
“Ultimately, we make decisions based on our own interests. And our national interests will very much be guided by principles of international law. As a small country, we need that rule of law framework to operate.”
In some circumstances, Singapore may make decisions that may seem to favour one side over the other, he said.
“But that doesn’t mean that we are pro-China or pro-America.
“It simply means that we are pro-Singapore.”
Asked if China’s “aggression” is the “most acute” in the Indo-Pacific, he said it is a phase of China’s nation-building journey.
“The Chinese talk about three phases in their nation-building journey. They want to stand up, they want to get rich, and they want to get strong. And I think they are, in their minds, in the ‘get strong’ phase of their nation-building journey, which means they feel that their time has come,” he said, adding that China feels it needs to take its rightful place in the world.
But China also knows that it has to play its cards carefully, Mr Wong said.
“China has to grow its influence without making other countries feel pressured, coerced or squeezed. Because if they do so, I think there will be a backlash against China and that will not be in their national interest. So China will have to learn how to moderate and adjust.”
Mr Wong said there is scope for Singapore to be friends with both China and the US at the same time.
“From Singapore’s perspective and, certainly, from the perspective of all the countries in South-east Asia, we value the friendship we have with the US. America has been a very good friend for a very long time.
“China now is also a friend for the countries in South-east Asia. And we would like to stay friends with both. After all, it should be possible to have more than one best friend,” he said to chuckles and applause from the audience.
Mr Wong also met US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai on Friday, welcoming the continued economic engagement by the US in the region.